US defence technology contractor Shield AI has acquired software company Heron Systems for an undisclosed purchase price.

The deal is expected to enhance Shield AI’s artificial intelligence (AI) engineering capabilities.

According to the companies, the transaction will accelerate the use of AI pilots on military jets.

Heron Systems general manager Brett Darcey said: “Shield AI enables us the opportunity and scale to accelerate the integration of our AI-pilot on a next-generation fighter and UAS (uncrewed aerial system).

“What stood out about Shield AI for us is that they’re really the only ones who have an operational AI pilot that can operate on the edge without GPS or comms, and this has been proven on combat operations.”

Heron Systems will now function as Shield AI’s fully owned division.

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Shield AI cofounder and former Navy SEAL Brandon Tseng said: “Whoever has the best AI-pilots will have a decisive and overwhelming advantage on the battlefield – inferior AI-pilots will be quickly destroyed, militaries without AI-pilots won’t stand a chance.

“The combined Shield AI and Heron team is excited and humbled to contribute to the warfighter, national security, and global stability by operationalising AI-pilots onboard 6th generation fighters and Group 5 UAS.”

Heron’s proprietary learning framework has enabled its AI software in achieving effective performance across various scenarios, including the DARPA AlphaDogfight trials.

AlphaDogfight trials are designed to showcase advanced algorithms capable of performing simulated, within-visual-range air combat manoeuvring, usually known as a dogfight.

During the AlphaDogfight trials, Heron Systems’ F-16 AI agent defeated seven other companies’ F-16 AI agents.